What I munch on when bad stuff happens

Leave a comment

Two truths are keeping me together, are feeding me these days:

Mark 7:37 – …..He does everything well! (ISV)

Ps 84:11 – …..No good thing does He withhold.(NIV)

When something ‘bad’ happens, I find myself talking to Jesus – You do EVERYTHING well!  No GOOD thing do you withhold from me!”  These two truths act as the sandwich bread bracketing/holding each particular set of circumstances.  Only with the bread in place, is it safe to draw any conclusion from the ‘bad stuff’ of suffering or evil.

This week, someone dear to me received news that she wasn’t expecting.  I know that she considers Jesus her treasure, that she is a believer.  So I know that the Psalm 84 promise belongs to her.  As I have fought back sinful worry on her behalf, I have reminded myself of these 2 promises.  And that helps me continue to pray for her, but without the worry or anxiety.

Pain and suffering are not ruled out in this fallen world.  We all know that. But they knock the wind out of us at times.  What helps me is intentionally to recall, that God has a purpose, and a good one. And reminding myself that He administers the circumstances ‘just so’, tailored for each one of His children helps dispel the fear.  The suffering and sorrow can still linger, but the fear and anxiety don’t.

  • ‘Come on, Maria, be realistic!  Do these truths work for the really awful stuff – the Sarin attacks that burn Syrian children, old grandmothers and young men alike? How can that be a ‘good’ type of suffering?’

Friends, if Christianity can’t address the toughest questions, then how is it any better than other explanations?

Here’s what I DO know.  Every worldview has to explain suffering and evil.  It’s not a solo burden meant only for Christianity.

But there are many ways to draw false conclusions about God, so we have to be careful. If we start from ourselves with what WE deem good, reasonable or right, then we have already derailed and are headed away from Truth.  The only safe and right place to start is with God.  The times I head away from God, I thank the Holy Spirit who brings back to Him (the Spirit’s job, per Jesus, is to guide us in ALL Truth – John 16:13) . Here is what grounds me in the Truth:

  • God alone created us, therefore He has every right to do what He wants with His creation.
  • God is GOOD and I can trust Him.
  • Just because I can’t see the good in this particular suffering doesn’t mean God isn’t working out good purposes.  Perhaps, one day having completed my earthly trek, I may learn what those good purposes were.
  • As a Christian, I am called to mourn with those who suffer and do all that is within my power as a fellow human indwelt by the Spirit of the all-powerful and loving God.

Coming back down from the mega-worldview to my little corner, I settle back and quiet my soul and munch on my ‘sandwich’:  ‘You do all things well and no good thing do You withhold’.  This is where I live.  This food is sweeter than honey and leaves no bitter aftertaste.

Psalm 131:2 – But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. (NIV)

 

 

Do we work for our salvation?

Leave a comment

“….Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  for or it is God who works in you to will and to act on behalf of His good pleasure.…” Phil 2:12b-13a

Work out your salvation

Do you ever feel like you’re on the outside of a certain Bible passage, looking in? Like you can’t unlock what the verses mean, no matter how much you chip away at the word meaning or greater context?  I’ve felt that way for a LONG time, about MANY verses that seem too short and too cryptic.  Recently John Piper explained what is beginning to happen to me.  And it’s a welcome change.  Let me share a recent example and maybe you’ll find some hope for how you, too, can be rewarded with nuggets of gold after some hard-core mining.

A piece of that reward arrived this past Sunday as I was poking around Blue Letter Bible to research the Greek meaning of ‘work out’ in the cited verse.  In that rich soil, God brought forth a new ‘aha!’ moment as He opened up my understanding of Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians.  I’ve always struggled to understand two aspects of his ‘strong suggestion’.

  • what are we working out?  are we actually working toward our salvation?
  • what does working out one’s salvation have to do with what God is doing IN me?

What I have found is that some of the Bible seems to be written in a shorthand form.  A lot of explicit explanation just isn’t there.  Reminds me of poetry, which often stumps me. Or maybe some of these puzzling lines are like the parables Jesus told, meant to keep out those whose only interest in Truth is passing.

But I WANT to know, to understand, to OWN more and more of God’s Word.  So I dig around and soak in the Bible A LOT.  And after 18 1/2 years, things are beginning to ‘pop’.

What got me soaking all those years ago?  I started actually STUDYING the Bible systematically through an in-depth Bible study called Bible Study Fellowship (BSF link here).

I had become a Christian 16 years earlier, but my scripture reading was hit or miss and except for about a year in a British Anglican church, we weren’t around ‘Christians’ who actually believed that the Bible was God’s authoritative Word, alive and full of power.

BSF changed all that.

So now, although we have moved and don’t find ourselves near a BSF class, we continue to read and study our Bible and belong to a church that submits to the authority of the Word.

And I’m beginning to reap my investment of time and energy.  Verses and passages which previously remained closed to me are now opening up.  And it’s exciting!

So what about the WORKING OUT conundrum?  Here’s what I figured out or WORKED OUT from reading the Greek meanings of katergázomai/work out.  When we take something and think it through and see how it applies, then it becomes OURS.  We’re fashioning it to fit into what we already know.  It’s like making room in your house for a new painting.

I was relieved to conclude that NO, we don’t do works to earn our salvation, but we have to renovate our entire understanding of who we are and why we exist in the first place by yielding to God as our Creator, Redeemer and Happy Master.  And the comforting good news is that God does not leave us to do this home renovation on our own!  Look at Philippians 13:a.  It’s God Himself who is at work in us both to DESIRE (will) and WORK to please Him.  What a sweet deal for us.

Knowing God so far, it’s safe to assume that He has many more treasures for me.  If I stay rooted like a tree, near His living and life giving water, then as I draw up cool refreshing nourishment, I will continue to grow.

Tree by a stream

Which governs your walk with Christ – knowledge or feelings?

Leave a comment

Patrick’s definition of Biblical wisdom in today’s sermon stopped me cold.  Our pastor has begun preaching through the book of James in view of the many trials to befall our church family in recent months.  He has sensed, rightly so, a need for us to know HOW to think properly about what God has sent.

I’ve always joked about being a member of the ‘pure joy club’ as in:

  • Consider/Count it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds...James 1:2

But when you are suffering, it’s nothing to laugh about. No matter the flavor or extent of pain and difficulty, we all require good teaching and counsel in how to deal with the trials. James’ instruction, therefore, directing his listeners to ask God for wisdom in the suffering makes sense.

But here’s the new wrinkle:  I had always thought that praying for wisdom meant asking for guidance in what TO DO!  Today, Patrick took a different angle.  He explained that the kind of wisdom we need is help in thinking correctly/truthfully about the trial.  If we can’t imagine how to view this current suffering as falling into the category of ‘complete joy,’ then we are to pray for the ability to take what we know about God and his Word and apply both to our circumstances.

In essence we are begging God:

  • Father, help me to understand and trust that you are working in this awful circumstance!  Help me TO THINK correctly!

From THAT new definition of Biblical wisdom, it occurred to me that Knowing WHAT TO THINK is more important than knowing WHAT TO DO. And since our actions or lack of actions affect our emotional state, right knowledge must rule our feelings.  

So here’s a question?  In your life is your  knowledge more important than your feelings?

God, speaking through the prophet Hosea, says: My people perish for lack of knowledge -Hosea 4:6

and in Isaiah 5:13, God warns: Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; those of high rank will die of hunger and the common people will be parched with thirst.

And in this teaching from Philippians 2:5, Paul counsels – Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.

What he means is THINK, or DIRECT YOUR MIND…about a certain topic.

A recent conversation with a close friend provides an appropriate illustration of the importance of correct thinking.  This dear gal has been suffering from what I call:

ADHD – Anxiety, Despair, Hopelessness and Depression

Like all of us, she is pulled in many directions as a mom of 2 under the age of five as well as being pregnant with her third child.  Her self-chosen priorities feel like burdens because of some INCORRECT thinking.

Here is one example of the unintended consequences of false ideas. Her life presupposition has been:

  • I am what I do.  Therefore, if I’m not doing, then I don’t exist.

In her case she has chosen to define herself as the kind of mom who:

  • cooks healthy meals for her kids
  • spends time reading to them and homeschooling the eldest
  • exercises every day
  • keeps an organized house

So when circumstances (aka God’s providence) interfere and block her ‘doing’, then she has felt herself coming undone, like she doesn’t exist.

She has been living off of, feeding on her emotions with NO input from God’s word.  She truly is perishing for lack of true knowledge.

Truth will set you free

The only solution is to throw herself onto God’s mercy and ask Him for wisdom in how to think correctly, that is Biblically about her circumstances, given accurate knowledge of God’s character, ways, past rescues and promises of future grace.  The right kind of knowledge trumps feelings.

Here’s one final bit of evidence that our God considers true knowledge vital.

The apostle John comforts us in the most important knowledge or reality that any Christian wants – assurance of one’s salvation.  The good news is that our feelings do not enter into the facts.  Listen to his words in 1 John 5:13

  • These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

We all know the source of this life-giving knowledge – God’s written Word.  Don’t starve! “Mangia! Mangia!” as all good Italian moms exhort!   Let us taste and see that the Lord IS good.  Why do you think I named this blog, “Feed on Him”?

 

 

What holds you together?

2 Comments

‘For in him we live and move and have our being…’  Acts 17:28a

TMI?  Too much information – all alarming and overwhelming. With smart phones, laptops, talk radio and even traditional print media, I feel assaulted by sincere-sounding, but conflicting opinions.

Fortunately, my ‘Belt of Truth  awaits me each morning.  Buckling into God’s word not only clears my head so I can see clearly, but also makes me feel secure and safe. You know, I need to prioritize thinking about that belt as much as I think about my food for each school day!

Belt - cartoonThis morning, Sunday, while walking I began to stress about the coming school week.  Will I get all my plans done? What about Jack whose mom wrote yesterday to say how frustrated he felt with one of my homework assignments?

Then I remembered my belt. What do belts do?  They don’t allow for much else to come between our tummies and the snug encircling leather, do they! In that sense they protect us.  From what?

Jesus explained to Thomas, “….I am the way, the truth and the life….”   John 14:6

Tightening my Truth Belt, I’m actually putting Jesus around me.  He promises to block hammering false beliefs.  There’s no room for them if my belt is to stay both firm yet comfortable.

As I trudged up the gravel road, I thought about that quote from Acts about living ‘in him‘.  Paul was actually echoing a line from Epimenides, but applying the truth to God, when he mentioned the poet to the Athenian ‘philosophes‘.

So I will more gladly buckle my safety belt.  Not a car restraint, but a ‘living and moving and being belt’ – One that allows ONLY Jesus both to filter the TMI and to hold me together.

The good kind of fear

4 Comments

So many things to fear.  To be human and do MORE than huddle in bed, sheets pulled up over our head, takes courage.

Cowering in bed

The Bible is very forthright when it comes to fear.  I can’t think of one Bible character whose fear is not described.  Abraham worried about the Egyptians and thus passed his wife, Sarah, off as his sister. Moses shrank back from the task God wanted to give him, that of confronting Pharaoh.  Esther trembled at the idea of approaching her husband the King without his initial bidding.

The former blind man’s parents feared excommunication from the Temple community when asked to explain why their grown son could now see. The disciples feared the Romans and met furtively behind locked doors after Jesus’ execution.

And this week we faced horror after horror as events in Paris, Syria and Nigeria unfolded, just to name a few!

But there are also more mundane fears.  Friday, I had the occasion to chaperone middle school students on the first of five afternoons skiing here in Western North Carolina.  It had been 12 years since I took to the slopes.  I found myself feeling nervous due to the unknown arrangements of ski rental (will my feet cramp in those confining blocks of cement?), of navigating the ski lifts (will I ‘miss’ the moving seat and fall and make a fool of myself?), of avoiding dare-devil kids on snowboards (will I fall and break something and not be able to complete my daily walks?)

John Calvin observed that our hearts are ‘idol-factories’. Well, we are equally skilled at inventing fears.

Therefore, I felt greatly encouraged by a Desiring God blog post entitled Trading Fear for Fear

Reading it over several times (the link is above) and grappling to put the truths into my own words, I have concluded that God MEANS us to fear and has wired us to do so. But there is a right kind of fear and a wrong kind of fear.

I’m curious to learn how YOU would explain the godly kind of fear (no one needs any help in describing our default mechanism to fear the unknown and the threatening).  Here is what I have concluded from studying God’s word and letting it sink in:

  1. Fearing God – Hebrew word YIRAH (Strong’s # 3374) is experiencing  awe and respect and even a thrill at the ‘greater-than-we-can-grasp’ power and majesty and being of God.  Psalm 2:11 illustrates this posture as in “Worship/Serve the Lord in Yirah (reverence) and rejoice in trembling.
  2. The proper fear of the Lord is actually a gift granted to those to whom light is given.  Before this ability to see, we actually have a twisted view of the world and of God.  For in fact, we are by nature born into darkness and the light with which we see and evaluate the world is about as powerful as that emanating from your bathroom nightlight.  When God, via the Holy Spirit, flips on the switch giving us HIS light, we then see the truth of the world for the first time. We then begin to KNOW who God is and how life, liberty and joy are the birthright of all of us who grab hold of this true, forever and loving God who has given us new birth.
  3. Therefore, until we are transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness in to the Kingdom of Light, we can’t understand the right kind of fear, godly fear, because we don’t see/understand God correctly.  (Colossians 1:13 –He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.)
  4. Once our eyes are opened, we can begin to fear God properly. And what blessings accompany this YIRAH/correct attitude and posture toward God! Just do a google search on ‘fear of the Lord’ and feast on the many promises of God.

5. Finally (and this helps me the most), I can’t fear two completely opposite things at one time.  Why not?  Aren’t we good at multi-tasking?  Perhaps YOU are, but it’s more than holding 2 ideas together at one time.  What we fear, what we respond to is dictated by what we look at.  If I focus on troubling world circumstances like the evil terror that seems unrestrained and growing, or if I dwell on my imagined fears accompanying upcoming new experiences, or if I worry about what might happen if this or that happens, then I am fearing PRECISELY in a way that God commands me NOT to. Isaiah 8:12 is a good reminder: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.”

However, when we fear/revere/thrill/look at the awe-FUL, wonder-FUL character and works of God, then all sorts of attendant resources are made available to us, besides JOY.  The same prophet Isaiah assures of that….

33:6 He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

2a - Maria skiing for first time in 13 yrs - 9 Jan 2006

The pain of thinking wrongly

4 Comments

My mom used to say that most of what we fear never comes to pass.  I can look at her worries and attest to the truth of her reasoning.

German Bread

My mom loved to travel to Europe ‘just to eat the bread’, she would often claim.  She was an extravert and also cherished rubbing shoulders with strangers, whether on those long plane rides to Zürich or in shops along the lakeshore of Lugano.  She would quickly encourage their stories as they happily opened up their hearts to her.

But the time leading up to the travel itself was the source of much worry and anxiety.

Travel Anxiety

Even local ordinary activities caused her anxiety.  Crossing the drawbridge grillwork of the James River Bridge near her house in order to get to the commissary on Ft Monroe was a big deal to her.  I’m not sure what she thought might happen – just maybe that the car would plunge over the side, into the river below.

When she died, it was probably not the way she had pictured or feared.  She collapsed one Thursday afternoon, walking on their property along the James River.  I was at the gym talking to a friend who had just attended a funeral that day. Funny the details you remember.  And my dad, who had meticulously planned HIS departure before his wife’s, was equally caught off guard by her sudden death.

Like my mom I, too, subject myself to needless pain, running scenarios through my head and praying that God would NOT bring my deepest fears to pass.  So I was startled, pleasantly, when I read a column by Andrée Seu Peterson about our fears in the latest issue of World Magazine.  She mentioned in passing how much help CS Lewis had been in this realm with his conclusion chronicled in A Grief Observed (his wife Joy had died from cancer).

This is important.  One never meets just Cancer, or War, or Unhappiness (or Happiness).  One only meets each hour or moment that comes.  All manner of ups and downs.  Many bad spots in our best times, many good ones in our worst”  (from A Grief Observed)

That is powerful.  It dissolves the size of all the things we dread, because it reduces them to a succession of moments. I know what pain in the moment is. When I am on my 27th pushup or hustling up that last stretch of 13 % incline gravel road leading to our house, I am in pain.

Old Cabin from below

But as soon as exertion is over, the pain is forgotten.  Most important, though, is how the pain comes to us – measured out like sand running through an hourglass, grain-by-grain, moment-by-moment.

So here it is Sunday and work looms tomorrow, especially noticeable after 5 days of relaxation over Thanksgiving week.   But when I launch out into the dark new day, taking on the Cove walk challenge and commuting to Asheville and having to grapple with an annoying 7th grade boy and come up with creative lesson plans, it will be moment by moment, not monolithically as I have been imagining my tomorrows.

 

Hourglass

Is it this way with you, too?  I want God to remove unpleasant things from my life, but He promises more – Himself:

  • Be content!
  • Do not covet what I haven’t given you!
  • Be free!
  • Rejoice, for I will be with you each of these moments of dreaded events or humdrum circumstances or even celebratory crazy-good times!

For, listen up! This is what really matters (says God)…… I am bigger than any of those instants, good or bad.  My transcendent but real presence dwarfs each and every blink-of-the-eye unit of time that comes to you.  What is the next grain of sand of pain or joy, compared to me?  I will give you exactly what you need for the grain-sized moment that comes. Fear not, relax and rest in my provision – my manna for the moment.

Manna for the day

Now THAT thought settles my restless mind.

Fruit of NOT worrying

1 Comment

Gentleness

 

Because my tendency to worry is one of my on-going battles with sin,  I’m drawn to pray and read God’s Word in hopes that I will be courageous enough to kill off this habit.  My last few posts have chronicled explorations in living ‘WORRY-FREE’, even if only for short periods of time.

Recently I was surprised when I was re-reading the famous passage in Philippians 4 where God says through Paul:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

What struck me this time was how GENTLENESS was set up in contrast to ANXIETY, aka WORRY.

It seems that God is saying that when we are NOT worried, then we can afford to be gentle with others, with ourselves, and all the potential annoying impediments to ‘our agenda’.

But under what kinds of circumstances could anyone NOT be worried?  Is it when we actually ARE care-free?  By all means NO.  If that were the case, then a life without worry would seem like ‘pie in the sky, by and by’!

No, a worry-free life FILLED with stress is what is described here, I think. Remember, this is Paul, the sometime on-the-run church planter and traveling pastor and inveterate writer. The one who was whipped, shipwrecked, stoned, left for dead, imprisoned and finally murdered.  He learned, practiced and encouraged fellow Christians by his example.

When we actually believe God and trust Him enough to hand over each and every (big and little) concern/worry/problem/situation/stress (whatever we euphemistically use to call that which consumes our thoughts and drives our negative feelings), we are beginning to learn how not to be anxious.

Casting Cares and Worries

 

Being gentle is the byproduct of entrusting God with all of our circumstances and ‘situations’.  It’s also a blatant statement of our belief in the sovereign control of God over every single circumstance.

I’m reading Elizabeth Elliot’s 1976 book entitled: Let Me Be a Woman.  It’s a collection of letters of advice to her one and only daughter who is on the verge of marriage.  In chapter/letter/essay 33 she proclaims this fact:

‘What a relief it is to know that there is a divine design.  This knowledge is the secret of serenity. Jesus is the perfect example of a human life lived in serenity and obedience to the Father’s will.  He moved through the events of His life without fuss or hurry. He met men and women with grace.  He was able to say, “I do always those things that please the Father”……’

That whiff of a life lived gently, without anxiety or rush, doesn’t that appeal to you?  But does it sound TOO good to be true?  Did it only work for Jesus because He was God’s son?  Did it only work for Paul because he was super-apostle?

I’m sensing an actual growing excitement that this way of living could actually be true.  But if I can’t turn to my every day ordinary mess and apply God’s command ‘cum’ promise, then it doesn’t apply anywhere and it’s a patent lie.

The way I figure it, I have nothing to lose. I’m banking on God’s character, that every word He has uttered is true because HE is truth.

So:

  • problemsome 6th grade boys
  • bouts of constipation (just being real!)
  • potential of not meeting my principal’s expectations
  • a busy last week in September that might eat into ‘Maria Time’

all these I’m casting, casting….. hourly throughout each day ……on God for He IS the one who IS taking care of me.

 

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: